Luke Cage is coming back to Harlem on September 30th, and he’s going to be bringing his bulletproof justice to Netflix screens everywhere. Like his fellow Defenders, Daredevil and Jessica Jones, Luke is a street-level hero who has no time for cosmic threats. While Captain America and Iron Man are off trying to keep alien overlords like Thanos from acquiring universe-altering stones, Luke Cage is the guy who protects his community from murderers, muggers, rapists, and anyone who thinks they can push anybody else around.
Of course, being a hero means making a lot of enemies. While Luke Cage doesn’t tend to spend his free afternoons battling a lot of sentient robots or evil Norse gods — well, except during his time as an active member of the Avengers, that is — he has built up a deadly array of formidable adversaries, many of them with a highly personal connection to his criminal past. If you’re ready to study up on Luke Cage’s bad guys, then read below to learn 15 Luke Cage Villains You Need to Know About.
The first villain you need to know is Cottonmouth, set to be the first big bad of Luke Cage‘s first season, where he will be played by Mahershala Ali. Early reviews of Luke Cage have so far been overwhelmingly positive, with many praising Ali as a worthy successor to Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave, so this is definitely a villain you’ll be hearing about.
In the comics, Cornell Cottonmouth — renamed Cornell Stokes in the series — is a drug kingpin that controls much of the heroin trade in Harlem, whose modus operandi involves the use of live snakes. He first hears of Luke Cage shortly after the former “Carl Lucas” breaks out of prison, changes his name, and sets up his hero operation in New York. Very interested in having an unbreakable man like Luke Cage on his team, Cornell initially tries to recruit Luke, only to find himself with a new enemy. Cornell later has all of his teeth punched out, and he replaces them with gold-capped sharp teeth to enhance his serpentine trademark.
In the series, Cornell will be portrayed as a conflicted character who feels intimidated by the arrival of Luke Cage — a force of vigilante justice who threatens Cornell’s business, power, and family legacy. As a result, Cornell will attempt to recruit Luke into his operation. Based on photos depicting Cornell smiling in front of a tilted crown, it looks like the cinematic Cottonmouth will also be a big fan of The Notorious B.I.G.
There are few people in the world who have been as close to Luke Cage as his childhood friend Willis Stryker, AKA Diamondback. Both of the friends spend much of their youth in and out of juvenile homes, due to their involvement in the local gangs. While Luke eventually changes his ways, Willis continues his criminal career, but the two of them remain friends. This comes to a crashing halt when Stryker’s girlfriend Reva ends up leaving him, no longer willing to put up with his criminal lifestyle, and she begins a relationship with the now-legitimate Luke. Feeling betrayed, Stryker then plants heroin in Luke’s apartment, leading to him becoming incarcerated for years.
During the time in which Luke is imprisoned at Seagate, Stryker becomes a skilled knife fighter, taking on the name Diamondback. When Luke finally breaks out of prison, now with unbreakable skin and super strength, it isn’t long before he and Stryker cross paths again… an event that will certainly be echoed in the Netflix series, where Stryker will be played by Erik LaRay Harvey.
13. Albert Rackham
Though not a supervillain, the prison guard Albert “Billy Bob” Rackham works for years to make Luke’s life a living hell. A vindictive racist who enjoys torturing the primarily African American inmates at Seagate Prison, Rackham has a particular obsession with Luke — a man who had just lost his life, his girlfriend, and his childhood friend. Rackham goes out of his way to make Luke’s life as painful as possible. This obsession ends up ruining Rackham when the warden finds out about his mean-spirited ways, and has him demoted.
Furious about this, and blaming Luke for his demotion, Rackham finds out that the inmate is volunteering for experiments conducted by Dr. Noah Burstein, and interferes in the process. When Dr. Burstein is away from the controls, Rackham tampers with them in an attempt to kill Luke. Instead, this causes the unexpected result of endowing Luke with superpowers.
12. Black Mariah
Mariah Dillard, better known as “Black Mariah,” is another Luke Cage villain who will be making her way to Netflix, where she’ll be played by actress Alfre Woodard. Like Cottonmouth, Black Mariah is a local gang leader whose operation runs into conflict with Luke Cage; this occurs when a widow of one of her gang’s victims hires Luke to find her husband’s body, and the vigilante ambushes her hideout. She is arrested, and her criminal organization collapses.
Later on, Mariah gets out of prison, and she works her way back up in Harlem’s underground. Her new gang becomes the primary distributor of a deadly new drug called Acid Z, a chemical so overpowering that it often drives its users to commit suicide. Her new operation flies into Luke Cage’s radar when his good friend and landlord D.W. Griffith comes across some Acid Z, and Luke starts seeking her out with his friend Iron Fist. They team up to take down Black Mariah’s new drug business, making short work of it.
11. The Green Goblin
Norman Osborn is a villain that needs no introduction. The iconic progenitor of the Goblin legacy, Norman Osborn’s poisonous touch has been the bane of Spider-Man’s existence since his earliest web-slinging days. Out of all five Spider-Man movies to date, the Green Goblin has been a villain in three of them, and a dangerous influencing force in the remaining two. But even though the Green Goblin will always be a Spider-Man foe first and foremost, with a deeply personal relationship to the wall crawler, he’s also managed to piss off a few other superheroes.
Though with Luke Cage, it’s not so much that Osborn’s done anything specifically to him: rather, Osborn makes the far bigger mistake of playing his sadistic games with Luke’s pregnant wife, Jessica Jones, which is exactly the sort of action that pushes a family man like Luke over the edge.
This occurs when Jessica is working as a superhero correspondent for the Daily Bugle, midway through her pregnancy. When Jessica reports that the Green Goblin’s true identity is actually Norman Osborn, the Goblin attacks. In response, Luke Cage teams up with Spider-Man to publically ambush Norman Osborn, forcing him to reveal his identity as the Green Goblin in front of the world. Once the cat is out of the bag, Luke makes a point to pummel Osborn in the face.
It’s no huge surprise that a supervillain named “Chemistro” would begin his career as a chemist, and that’s exactly what Curtis Carr did for the corporation Mainstream Motors. After investing years of his life into the development of an invention he called the “alchemy gun,” capable of transforming matter, the company’s president wanted to keep the patent (and the profits), since the gun was made on company time. Curtis argues with this, but is fired, losing the rights. In revenge, he adopts the moniker Chemistro, and takes revenge on Mainstream Motors.
Chemistro later finds himself in conflict with Luke Cage. During the battle, Curtis accidentally shoots his own foot, causing it crumble into dust. While he’s in prison, Chemistro’s cellmate beats him nearly to death, escapes, and then takes over the Chemistro identity. This is then followed by a third Chemistro, Curtis’s little brother Calvin, who is beaten by the unified Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Curtis, in the meantime, reforms his ways and eventually begins working for the prosthetics wing of Stark Industries as a Director of Research and Development.
Another classic Luke Cage foe who will be making the leap to Netflix is Shades, who will be played by Theo Rossi. Shades is actually Herman Alvarez, a father and criminal who is actually another old friend of Luke’s, though no loyalty remains by the time they reencounter each other.
Luke and Shades first meet as fellow members in the Rivals, a criminal gang in Harlem. During his early years, Shades has a son named Victor, but unlike Luke, he doesn’t attempt to turn his life around. Despite their different paths, both Shades and Luke end up at Seagate Prison, where they suffer from the violent whims of Albert Rackham. Shades and fellow prisoner Comanche eventually are able to break out of Seagate, but they return to their old criminal lifestyle and become frequent enemies of the newly-heroic Luke Cage. Years later, Shades attempts to redeem his past by becoming a community organizer in Hell’s Kitchen, and attempting to strengthen his bond with his estranged son Victor. Unfortunately, his new location puts him in the midst of a fight between Daredevil and Bullseye. Shades is killed when Bullseye blows up the building that he’s in, leaving Victor (who would go on to become the new Power Man) without a father.
While it’s unknown whether Shades Alvarez’s past connections with Luke will be retained in the series, he seems likely to be one of the pivotal characters. Theo Rossi has described him as the “Littlefinger” of the series, fully willing to switch sides depending on what benefits him the most. Chances are, we’ll be hearing a lot about this guy soon.
8. Cheshire Cat
We all remember the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and the way he would disappear into thin air, leaving only his smile lingering for a few uneasy moments. The Cheshire Cat in Marvel Comics, a Los Angeles based criminal who is summoned across the country to help the crime lord Big Brother find Luke Cage’s location, has much the same ability. But unlike the actual Cheshire Cat, who literally disappears into nothingness, this criminal’s powers stem from a handful of advanced electronic devices that allow him to become invisible, as well as intangible, and even let him teleport. With all of these powers combined, the Cheshire Cat has a rather disturbing talent of being able to slip between anyone’s figures, be anywhere he wants to be, and find anyone he’s hired to kill.
Not much is known about the Cheshire Cat’s past, or even his true identity. He later surfaced as a member of Flashmob, a team of Luke Cage villains who are hired by the Hand to take down Victor Alvarez, the son of Shades, who at this point in time has taken on the superhero identity of Power Man.
7. The Purple Man
If you’ve watched Jessica Jones, then you have no question about why Kilgrave, also known as the Purple Man, is on this list. A mind-controlling stalker, rapist, and egomaniac, Kilgrave’s obsession with Jessica made him one of the most compelling — and horrifying — villains to ever grace a TV screen. Though Luke Cage’s relationship to the Purple Man never approaches the terrible depth of the villain’s connection to Jessica Jones, the fact that Kilgrave’s actions caused such immense trauma to the love of Luke’s life has nonetheless given Luke a passionate hatred of the man. In the series, Kilgrave actually uses Luke and Jessica’s relationship against her, in a sick game wherein he controls Luke’s mind in order to bring Jessica to him.
In the comics, Luke and the Purple Man’s relationship is fairly similar: though the two of them have less personal history with each other than the majority of Luke’s foes, Luke has an understandably significant grudge against the man who held his wife’s mind hostage for so long. Luke gets revenge on the villain during a prison riot, when all of the prisoners attempt to escape, and the newly-reformed Avengers, including Luke, intervene. Upon confronting the imprisoned Purple Man, the supervillain tries to use his mind control powers on Luke, demanding that the hero kill all of his fellow Avengers, then commit suicide. Purple Man also promises that after Luke kills himself, he’ll “take very good care of our darling Jessica Jones, and your bastard baby child she is carrying.”
What Purple Man doesn’t realize is that during his time in prison, his food has been continually laced with drugs that negate his mind-control powers. Luke tells him this, much to Purple Man’s shock, and then proceeds to beat the living hell out of the supervillain, only stopping short of killing him when Captain America intervenes.
Tilda Johnson is one of Luke Cage’s most brilliant enemies, but the poor conditions she grew up in set the stage for an unfulfilled life. Born in a poverty-stricken Harlem neighborhood, Tilda is fascinated with science from an early age. Instead of showing it openly, however, she pursues her goals in secret, showing a childlike face to the world so that no one will suspect her true nature. An autodidact, Tilda teaches herself the basics of genetics, physics, and mechanical devices, developing her keen mind. But instead of pursuing a career in the sciences, Tilda ends up devoting her mental resources to criminal activities.
As Nightshade, a brief partnership with the Yellow Claw brings her into conflict with Captain America. After this defeat, Tilda returns to Harlem. There, she develops an army of robots that she uses to successfully take over Harlem’s protection rackets from the local gangs. This scheme is stopped by Luke Cage and Iron Fist. After running afoul of the heroes on multiple occasions, Tilda attempts to reform — but despite her scientific genius, she is unable to find employment, due to her criminal record and her lack of college degrees. When she finally finds work as a hospital receptionist, she is quickly fired when she points out the doctor’s mistakes, and finds herself drawn back into the underworld.
In recent years, Tilda has more successfully changed her life for the better. She now lives in Chicago, working as an activist, fighting for the rights of downtrodden African American citizens.
5. Cockroach Hamilton
Like most of Luke Cage’s enemies, Dontrell Hamilton is a Harlem native who grew up in poor conditions. As a child, Harlem would often hear murders taking place right outside his bedroom window, and his small, dingy home was filled with the constant scampering sounds of cockroaches. Though fearful of these conditions throughout much of his youth, the young Dontrell eventually grew to develop a sort of affection for these insects, eventually taking on the name “Cockroach” when he became a mob enforcer as an adult.
As an enforcer, Cockroach Hamilton’s primary weapon is Josh, a six-barreled shotgun that he constructed himself. Even Luke Cage’s normally-bulletproof skin has shown itself to be not quite so impervious to Josh’s impact; in fact, a shot from Josh once blew Luke off the side of a building and busted his shoulder. This isn’t the only time that Cockroach has nearly killed Cage, however. On another occasion, he blasted Luke with gas, making him pass out, and then affixed the superhero to a drawbridge with his intention being that when it opened, it would tear Luke in half. Luckily, Luke escapes from this deathtrap, but he’s encountered Cockroach many times since.
It’s bad enough that Luke often has to fight his old friends, most of whom are still trapped in the violent life that he left behind years ago. What’s even worse is when, due to the consequences of his adolescent rebellion and years as a criminal, his own brother is driven to the brink of sanity — and to the point of becoming a supervillain named Coldfire.
After Luke is imprisoned, his older brother James cuts him off from the remaining family, going so far as to make Luke and his father believe that the other is dead. James moves from place to place, always trying to stay far away from Luke, until one day he becomes involved with a sinister organization known as the Corporation, which offers to transform him into something that can finally take down the little brother that he’s hated for all these years. James undergoes this procedure willingly, and becomes Coldfire, a protoplasmic being that is composed of white-hot flames.
But as Coldfire attempts to kill Luke, their father is taken hostage by the Corporation, held as insurance. Upon realizing this, James and Luke join forces to rescue their father from the Corporation’s grip, but Coldfire is forced to sacrifice his life in the process, so the two brothers never get the chance to reconcile their differences.
From his poor beginnings in Harlem, Lonnie Lincoln has a hard life. His albino condition renders his skin pale and sensitive to sunlight, and further genetic abnormalities make his voice unable to rise above a whisper. These conditions make Lonnie the target of constant mockery, only stifled when he grows taller and stronger than his peers, and learns to push them around. Lonnie becomes the school bully, and this attitude persists into adulthood. Calling himself Tombstone, Lonnie files his teeth to points, trains intensively, and becomes a hitman for the mob.
Tombstone has crossed paths with many of Marvel’s street-level heroes, including Daredevil, Spider-Man, Punisher, and not surprisingly, Luke Cage. Luke and Iron Fist run afoul of Tombstone when they attempt to retrieve a necklace from him, which their friend Jennie Royce claims belonged to her grandmother. Tombstone is infuriated by the accusation that he stole the necklace — which is actually a magical artifact called the Supersoul Stone — claiming that he won it in a poker game with the Hood. Tombstone orders his men to attack Luke and Iron Fist, but the two eventually manage to escape with the stone. Later, Tombstone leaks information about this event to the criminal underworld, offering a huge reward to anyone who can retrieve the stone for him.
2. Moses Magnum
The terrorist known as Moses Magnum is born in Ethiopia, and becomes embroiled in conflict from an early age; when Mussolini invades, Moses sides with the Italians over his own people. His interest in weaponry eventually spirals into a career as the president of a weapons manufacturing company. Contracted to create a new form of poisonous gas, Magnum feels no remorse about testing it on innocent civilians, an injustice that results in his operation being closed down. He falls into a drill shaft during a battle with Luke Cage, seemingly dying.
Instead, Moses returns, now empowered with the ability to create seismic waves from his fingertips. Capable of generating earthquakes, vibrations, and shockwaves, Moses forms an army and conquers Canaan, a small country in Africa that borders Wakanda, thus gaining diplomatic immunity. Luckily, before Moses can begin to have his own Doctor Doom-style monarchy, he is removed from power by the cyborg Deathlok.
Moses Magnum is a villain who hasn’t yet made his way to mainstream popularity, perhaps because he isn’t linked to any one specific hero, but he’s a Magneto/Loki-size phenomenon just waiting to happen. One of these days, whether in the Luke Cage series, a Black Panther movie, or a Deathlok movie, Moses Magnum will make it to the big screen… and upon his arrival, the earth will shake.
1. Mr. Fish
And before we part ways, we’ll have to finish this list with the necessary inclusion of Mr. Fish, the amphibian crook who is, without a doubt, the weirdo of Luke’s rogues gallery. Though some of Luke’s villains are super powered, the majority of them tend to be fairly believable human beings who come from realistic circumstances. Mr. Fish, while also a Harlem gangster, certainly stands out from the bunch, and it’s hard to take him seriously. But don’t laugh too loudly. As you can see in the image above, Mr. Fish really doesn’t take well to being laughed at.
Originally just a smalltime criminal named Mortimer Norris (a name that certainly doomed him to some kind of wacky comic book fate, and probably not a heroic one), Mortimer’s future lifestyle forever changes when exposure to radioactive material mutates him into a half-man, half-fish. The newly-empowered “Mr. Fish” uses his amphibious powers to become a notable gang leader. He is aided in these efforts by Shrike, a dwarf who function as his right hand man. Though Mr. Fish may have dreamed of one day taking on the Kingpin, Tombstone, or one of the other major league crime bosses, this scaly mobster’s illustrious career comes crashing to a halt when he’s confronted by Luke Cage, and dies in the conflict.
However, a new Mr. Fish takes his place: Bill Norris, his brother, who happens to have undergone the same transformation. Bill Norris lives on today, and so far hasn’t ended up on anyone’s sushi platter. Still, we wouldn’t count on seeing this guy in the Netflix series.